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what to with ashes

Wondering what to do with his wife’s ashes

The following is a cut and paste from the Saturday Guardian (I am never quite sure if I am allowed to do that, but I have fully referenced it!)

It concerns deliberation from a husband on what to do with his wife’s ashes, it is interesting and moving. It also adds a real voice , which you don’t get to hear very often. Two things strike me the first is that he does not want a connection with the ashes, but accepts that others may. Also that fact that he does not appreciate the funeral director’s approach to arrange the transfer of ashes. Anyway have a read it is well worth it.

I don’t know what to do with my wife’s ashes

Ideas range from sprinkling them in the garden or at sea, to shooting them skywards in a firework. None feels right for me

The home phone rings and I grit my teeth. For so long the link to loved ones, with the rise of the mobile the landline has instead become the weapon of choice for scammers and “How are you today?” cold-callers.

“Hello, Adam. It’s Carrie,” says a too-friendly female voice. I do a quick mental Rolodex through the Carries I know, drawing a blank but feeling an inexplicably negative association to the name. Perhaps it is an echo of the Sissy Spacek horror flick? Assuming it’s a cold call, my voice hardens. “What do you want?”

Not noting my tone, hers remains unctuous: “I was wondering if you have decided what to do with Helen?”

Physics says you never hear the bullet that hits you, but I hear this one as it tears the breath from me in the shock of hearing Helen referred to in the present tense. “I’m sorry, but my wife died recently,” I stammer.

She takes a moment, computing my confusion. “It’s Carrie from the funeral directors. I wondered when you wanted to collect Helen?”

Her use of the present tense hits me again like a blow to my solar plexus. I fold on to the stairs by the phone. The negative vibes were not Sissy Spacek’s fault. This Carrie is the woman I sat opposite arranging Helen’s transition from loved wife, mother, daughter and sister to “her body”.

“Can I call you back when I’ve decided?” I put the phone down without waiting for an answer. I assume that their £5,000 bill included indefinite storage of a small urn. Carrie’s question should not have been a surprise, but I have buried its coming because of the shocking gap between the vital, ever optimistic and life-affirming force of nature that was Helen and her new status as an urn of ashes. Carrie wants an answer to another bastard question that I never in my life saw being asked.

I turn to the ever friendly folk at Way, the self-help group (Widowed and Young). There, I find every version of my angst and a cornucopia of inspiration. From sprinkling ashes at home, at sea, on a favourite walk, in a garden of remembrance or mounted on the mantelpiece, shot skywards in a firework or fashioned into jewellery. Every option is clearly the right one for those concerned and perhaps wrong for me.

Way’s input also makes me realise that I am not the only stakeholder. Helen’s parents, Barbara and Ray, her sister, Sarah, and the kids need to feel a “rightness” in what we do. The terrible truth is that, to me, the urn and its dark contents are not Helen. She lives in the vibrancy, laughter and love of Millie and Matt and the values she bequeathed them; not as something inert and spent. I don’t need or want her ashes in any way, but for others they may be a necessary lifelong anchor to her memory.

I investigate a memorial in the form of a more traditional grave. I had hoped this might be in the pretty town-centre churchyard where Helen’s funeral service was held, but discover that it is “closed, I’m afraid”. Churchyards close? You keep living and learning on this dark trip.

So I am in a cemetery close by, near a primary school and railway whose presence adds an appealing animation to the scene. Standing with the kind council officer, I’m struck that the next-in-line new grave plots are horrific, with body-shaped piles of earth on the recent burials. Too much for the kids (and me).

Walking into the older section, I see a plot closer to what I had in mind – end of a row, under a tree and by a bench surrounded by mature graves. I’m not hopeful, but ask about its availability. “It would be unusual and normally with tree roots wouldn’t be usable, but you’re putting ashes in so I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

I see again how kind people can be and also how awful every facet of having this conversation is. Nothing is fine. I leave it for now, maybe for months – or ideally for ever – but I also know that every time I walk to the station past the funeral directors where Helen’s remains remain, it chips away another piece of me so I will have to act eventually to stay sane. Just not yet.

Adam Golightly is a pseudonym


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